A little history of second hand clothes

Jan 19, 2017 · 3 min read

Second-hand shops are getting more and more popular nowadays, not only because of the vintage trend, but also because of what it represents: recycling something used and generally of good quality, avoiding the accumulation of unwanted clothes. As the purchase of second-hand items appears to be,in our opinion, a good way to consume responsibly, we would like to present a short recap of its history.

We generally think that the second-hand trend appeared with the advent of vintage fashion, as in the past clothes were used until the very last. Its story and its trade begin, among several European cities, between the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Renaissance in the fourteenth century. At that time, few people could afford new clothes given their exorbitant price. Each piece was unique, tailor-made and used for years or decades. The dresses were passed from mother to daughter as a legacy and masters could give their servants their worn clothes as a form of payment or currency. It was very common to see secondhand clothes traders in the markets. Famous in Italian markets, as in Venice, where the Strazzaruoli had to undergo a 5-year training to have their own second-hand shop or in the Mercato Vecchio in Florence, where the rigattieri were very popular among the least favored for the sale of low price but good quality garments.

Telemaco Signorini, Mercato Vecchio a Firenze, 1882–83

In the middle of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, with the arrival of prêt-à-porter and its standardized sizes, second-hand clothing was losing its appeal and progressively became an export product to African countries.

With the emergence of “shoddy” (low quality recycled wool fabric used as blankets by US and British soldiers during World War I) a trend of poorly recycled clothes began.

During World War II, several second hand markets appeared in Europe like the famous Resin market in Ercolano (Italy). The market began selling stolen or abandoned items and clothes from US soldiers as they passed through the city and ended up being one of the best-known vintage markets. Even today, markets like Resin provide many of the most important vintage markets in Europe or the United States.

Resin market before and now

With population movements caused by the numerous wars and the need to get dress at low cost, second-hand clothes became, especially in North America, a potential business. It went progressively from having a lack of clothes to having too much. With the mechanization of textile industry, manufacturing costs were falling and clothes were quickly exchanged or discarded. Fashion began to grow rapidly. With this change, demand for second-hand items declined but increased in developing countries.

When the vintage trend arrived, by the end of the twentieth century, a variety of secondhand shops, also called vintage stores, appeared in the alternative neighborhoods of large cities. These types of stores increased in popularity over the years. Not only for the vintage trend, but also for the search of good quality, long-lasting and affordable garments.

Sincere appreciation to Ana Elisa for her contribution !


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